A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
Aug 7, 2016
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
We’ve spent more time this summer with the book of Job than some faithful Christians have ever spent with the book in their whole lives. We’ve wrestled with its complexity and the nuance of its argument. We’ve heard the discussion with his friends and have been reminded of our call to walk alongside people as they face grief and loss. We’ve heard one of my favorite passages of scripture, where God answers out of the whirlwind and challenges us to attend to our place in the universe as part of God’s beloved creation.
This morning we heard Job’s response to God’s answer, and it shows that he got it. He heard God. He saw creation in new ways.
“Therefore I spoke what I did not understand,
wonders beyond me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
Let me ask you, that you may inform me.”
By the ear’s rumor, I heard of You,
but now my eye has seen you;
therefore I recant,
and I repent in dust and ashes.’”
Job doesn’t say he’s sorry he asked the question. He doesn’t say he won’t ever have questions again. He just acknowledges his limited perspective led him to speak what he did not understand.
I love that he expects to continue the conversation with God. “Let me ask you, that you may inform me”.
I love that Job recants and repents, not for being boneheaded, but because now he sees more clearly and he knows better. This is not a looking back just in sadness and regret. This is taking what has happened and figuring out how to move forward.
Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
On some level, Job’s recanting and repenting are just another way of saying “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
And then we have this ending. ugh.Where God restores the fortunes of Job.
I struggle with the discrepancy of a book that faithfully struggles with ambiguity and mystery for 41 chapters and then wraps things up neatly in a bow. The end.
One of my commentaries on this book writes: “Dissonance is part of the narrative strategy of the book. By leaving the tension between the two parts unresolved, the book, as a whole….explores different dimensions of the complex question of the moral basis for divine human relations.” (NIB Commentary, p. 634, vol 4)
In other words, there is not an easy answer to the way we interact with God and traverse the struggles of life. Both my lived experience, and this book, remind me of the importance of living through it all together, in community.
I don’t know if it has ever happened to you, but on my 413th reading of the ending of Job, this time I noticed something new. I noticed that God restored Job’s fortunes through his community. And not through a perfect community either. We’ve already heard of his three friends, and the things they said to him in an attempt to comfort and sustain him.
But where were these other people? Maybe they were there all along. Wherever they had been, it is clear that they came back. The text reads:
“Then there came to Job all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.”
The text speaks of those who had known him before. Perhaps these are the people who didn’t know what to say. Or who were afraid to say something that might upset. Or who did not know how to deal with their own fears and sadnesses, and so couldn’t imagine how to walk alongside someone else’s grief.
We’ve all been those friends. And it’s okay.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
These friends show up and eat with Job, show him sympathy and comfort, and gave him resources to help him rebuild his life.
Y’all may not pass around gold rings when people go through difficulties, but I’ve seen you help in restoring fortunes with your casseroles, your prayers and cards, your visits. If Job is a prosperity gospel, it is about the prosperity that comes in community.
God uses the care of the community to restore Job’s fortunes.
Job’s flocks and fields are restored too. Even increased.
And he gets a new family, which is no small thing on Job’s part. Imagine the courage that would take? Knowing what could be lost, trusting that in the good and the bad God is there.
“He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.”
Please note this is maybe the only instance in the bible when the daughters are mentioned and the sons go unnamed.
Not only are his beautiful daughters named, it tells us Job’s daughters received an inheritance, along with his sons.
There were situations where daughters could inherit if their brothers died, or if there were no other male relatives. The idea that Job provides an inheritance for his daughters, along with the inheritance for his sons, is remarkable for its time, and suggests to me that Job’s recanting and repenting has truly transformed him. It suggests that as he went on the whirlwind tour of creation with God, he learned to value creation differently than he once did—all creation, even his female children, are part of God’s beautiful design. Now that he knows better, he is doing better.
His whirlwind tour of creation seems to have changed his parenting style too.
If you remember all the way back to the beginning, we were told Job would offer sacrifices on behalf of his children. Just in case they had done something wrong.
Job “would rise early in the morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did.”
This is what Job always did.
It is normal and appropriate for parents to throw up an extra prayer for the safety of their kids now and then. It’s an uncertain world out there, after all. It is not normal to always offer extra sacrifices just in case one of your kids might just possibly have done something to offend.
I don’t know if you’ve ever lived with someone who had the kind of anxiety that Job had at the beginning of the story. But it is exhausting to have someone around you all the time trying to keep you safe, trying to control the uncontrollable parts of the world, trying to mitigate everything so nobody will be harmed.
It keeps you from enjoying life. It leads you to get things out of balance.
And it doesn’t work.
Anxiety does not keep you safe. Bad things still happen to excessively safety minded people who do everything they know how to do to be safe.
At the end of the story, Job is not an anxious man. He is not a broken man. It’s remarkable, really.
It isn’t that he’s forgotten his tragedy. But he has been transformed through his tragedy, through his struggling, through his questioning. He asked the question earlier in the book, “If mortals die, can they live again?”
Job is now ready to live again.
He knows what can be lost. In real and painful ways, he knows what can be lost. And yet he still chooses to live. He’s willing to risk loving again.
Some people use the ending of Job to preach that if you are faithful in all things, God will restore your fortune. And you will be rich.
I’m sorry you don’t have one of those preachers.
It seems to me that when God restores Job’s fortunes, it is about many things other than money.
What is restored to him is wholeness, and joy, and a new perspective. What is restored is the chance to know better and do better. What is restored is a freedom from anxiety.
After he got his new family, his second chance, we’re told Job lived 140 years, a number of completion, and he saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
A few weeks ago, at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, one of the songs we sang in worship is the song I played at the beginning of the service.
I believe everything that You say You are
I believe that I have seen Your unchanging heart
In the good things and in the hardest part
I believe and I will follow You
I believe and I will follow You
I trust you can see why the song made me think of Job. In the good things, and in the hardest part, I believe and I will follow you.
We don’t all get to live to be old and full of days as Job did. Whether we live 50 years or 140 years, though, it occurs to me that the way to be sure “mortals can live again”, in the good things, and in the hardest part, is to do better once we know better, to live with mystery, and to continue to journey together, helping each other along the way.